Hendersonville – Cooper King won the Wilburn Clary Medal Scholarship and $3,000, from the N.C. High School Athletic Association. He graduated June 9 with the highest (3.95 unadjusted) grade point average among male HHS graduates.
King scored 39 goals each in his junior and senior seasons, as a prolific striker-forward. As the Bearcat placekicker, he boomed field goals as long as 47 yards. He also punted.
“Coop” is the sole North Carolinian who was all-state in the past three seasons in football and two in soccer. He is a two-time NCHSAA Performance of the Week honoree, once for scoring in HHS football and soccer playoff triumphs in the same week last fall.
Such distinctions helped him get nominated for NCHSAA male athlete of the year, across all four levels and all varsity sports. Two Lady Bearcats (Molly Payles in 2000, Hailey Cook in 2021) were female athletes of the year.
King excelled in performance results, skilled play, competitive drive, undeterred focus, native and in-game intelligence, split-second reactions and improvisation, determination, dedication to improvement, sportsmanship, and team and school spirit.
King will play athletics for UNC-Chapel Hill and study business, economics, and entrepreneurship. He earned a certified nursing assistant (CNA) license earlier this month. His career ambition is to “merge my passions of medicine and business, and make a difference in the world.”
He is the elder of Todd and Tricia King’s two sons. Brother Oliver (“Oli”) is a rising eighth grader, and a superb soccer center-back defender. They practice one-on-one in their backyard, with a small goal.
Cooper King calls the Clary a cherished “honor. It’s well-represented throughout my four years of academic and athletic achievement. This shows if you do the hard work, where it’ll get you. It’s never easy. It doesn’t just happen. You have to work, work, work.”
He explained the key ingredient, to shine in both athletics and in the classroom while being extra busy. “It comes down to discipline. If you want to be a good athlete and have a very strong academic resume, you have to have a set schedule. Know where you’ll be at a given time.”
King plays soccer year-round. He played on weekends for the Asheville-based Highland Football Club, on top of football Fridays and two or three weekly HHS soccer matches. HFC advanced from an Elite Clubs National League regional tourney for travel squads (aged 13-18). HFC is among 144 teams in the U.S. Youth Soccer National Championships July 18-23 in Orlando, Fla.
Kingis a positive-natured role model. He helps coach and mentor elementary and middle school youths, to motivate them to “get into the sport.” He volunteers working with autistic children. “It’s honestly a joy to be around them. They make me smile.”
Retiring HHS principal Bobby Wilkins notes that King is well respected, and a rare pupil who relates to a vast cross-section of students. King is fluent in Spanish.
King encouraged teammates while on the field and sidelines, keeping up intensity. “I’m always talking with somebody, while watching the game.” His pre-kick ritual is taking two deep breaths. He stays confident and relaxed by treating even long field goal tries “like an extra point.”
King got offered “preferred walk-on” status to try out for the Tar Heels as a placekicker. Asheville Cougar alum Liam Boyd transferred from Clemson to UNC, which returns a senior kicker.
King’s 202 points in three HHS varsity football seasons is a school record for kickers. Maxpreps rated him as the top-rated kicker statewide, in terms of field goal percentage and kickoff and punting average yardage for the past three years.
He has a booming “thunderfoot” swing in both of his sports. He has a swift and powerful motion, impact, and follow-through. Thriving under pressure as a sophomore, King launched a clutch 44-yard field goal to secure a playoff berth.
In upsetting dynastic Shelby in 2A playoffs, he drilled a 41-yard field goal and recovered a fumbled kickoff return. He did all of that as a sophomore. “We prepared for it like every other game,” he recalled.
There were two extra barriers for those playoffs in early 2021 as the “COVID playoffs” delayed from fall 2020. Also, the HHS was being renovated. The ancient stone fieldhouse and its old lockers were demolished. Instead, the Bearcats used lockers crammed into a small storage barn beyond the northern end zone for home games.
The consolation was the close proximity to Dietz Field. “You walk out, and you’re right there on the field.”
King is 6-foot-2 and 1/2 inches tall when barefoot. He bulked up by his senior year. He overpowered soccer foes. He is extremely fast when dribbling past defenders who double- or triple-team him. He can leap to make an acrobatic kick. He is also an adept passer, and a determined defender and ball-handler.
HHS went 34-5-4 in the past two soccer campaigns behind scoring of King, rising senior Harrison Moss, and others. King totaled 97 goals and 57 assists in three varsity soccer seasons. He scored four goals each in three successive games as a junior.
Last fall, HHS went furthest in soccer playoffs with King on the team by reaching round three. He called the playoff run a “great culmination to the season.”
King scored six of the Cats’ 11 goals in their two playoff conquests. He scored a “natural hat trick” with three straight goals in the first half of the 7-0 thrashing of NW Randolph on Halloween. He curved a free kick around four defenders who lined up to block it, then ducked out of the way as the blast sailed by them.
King scored twice in the 4-0 win over Dalton McMichael in round two, a night before HHS won its football playoff opener. He eluded foes four times in ball-handling in the corner, before dashing to the net and scoring a crucial goal. Noah Pavao registered the shutouts.
“I like faster-paced games, with more action,” King said. The pace changes in a game. I don’t like it if it gets too chaotic. But I like it if it’s high intensity, and fast-moving.” He adjusts to the flow of a soccer match. “You find the pace, in the first five minutes. Once you find the game rhythm, you settle into your rhythm.”
King said that “I model my game” after the skilled trio of U.S. men’s team captain Christian Pulisic, 24; Norwegian striker Erling Haaland, 22; and “incredible” ballhandler and scorer Leo Messi. Messi, who led Argentina to the latest World Cup, turned 36 on Saturday.
UNC-bound King, in turn, is an inspiration for local youth.